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James Geddes Family Correspondence

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Geddes, James, 1763-1838

James Geddes (1763-1838) was a Scottish American settler, born in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, who worked as a surveyor, civil engineer, salt manufacturer, judge, and politician. He lived briefly in Kentucky and worked as a school teacher before settling in Onondaga County, New York, near Syracuse, where he erected a salt manufactory on the west shore of Onondaga Lake in 1796. This land had been designated by the State of New York as the Onondaga Salt Springs Reservation after the Onondaga Nation was forced to cede its lands to the United States under the Treaty of Fort Stanwix (1784). Geddes was hired by the State of New York in 1797 to survey the Onondaga Salt Springs Reservation and lay out the first road through Salt Point (later known as Salina), New York, as well as to lay out and improve another road through the reservation in 1804.

Geddes's friend Simeon De Witt, the New York State Surveyor General, appointed him to make the first surveys of the route of the Erie Canal in 1808; he was named chief engineer of the Erie Canal project in 1816 and remained involved until construction of the canal was completed in 1825. In the 1820s and 1830s, Geddes contributed as a surveyor, engineer, or consultant to numerous other infrastructure and transportation projects including the Champlain Canal in New York; the Cumberland and Oxford Canal in Maine; the Ohio and Erie Canal and the Miami and Erie Canal in Ohio; the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal in Maryland; the canal system for the State of Pennsylvania; and the First Welland Canal in Ontario, Canada.

In addition to his surveying and civil engineering work, Geddes also held various public offices. After studying law, he was appointed justice of the peace in 1800, associate justice in 1809, and judge for Onondaga County's court of common pleas in 1812. He represented Onondaga County for two terms in the New York State Assembly, from 1803 to 1804, and later, from 1821 to 1822. He was elected to the United States House of Representatives as a Federalist in 1812 and served one term from 1813 to 1815.

The area of Onondaga County where James Geddes settled and died was renamed Geddes in his honor in 1848.

Geddes, James, 1763-1838

James Geddes (1763-1838) was a Scottish American settler, born in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, who worked as a surveyor, civil engineer, salt manufacturer, judge, and politician. He lived briefly in Kentucky and worked as a school teacher before settling in Onondaga County, New York, near Syracuse, where he erected a salt manufactory on the west shore of Onondaga Lake in 1796. This land had been designated by the State of New York as the Onondaga Salt Springs Reservation after the Onondaga Nation was forced to cede its lands to the United States under the Treaty of Fort Stanwix (1784). Geddes was hired by the State of New York in 1797 to survey the Onondaga Salt Springs Reservation and lay out the first road through Salt Point (later known as Salina), New York, as well as to lay out and improve another road through the reservation in 1804.

Geddes's friend Simeon De Witt, the New York State Surveyor General, appointed him to make the first surveys of the route of the Erie Canal in 1808; he was named chief engineer of the Erie Canal project in 1816 and remained involved until construction of the canal was completed in 1825. In the 1820s and 1830s, Geddes contributed as a surveyor, engineer, or consultant to numerous other infrastructure and transportation projects including the Champlain Canal in New York; the Cumberland and Oxford Canal in Maine; the Ohio and Erie Canal and the Miami and Erie Canal in Ohio; the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal in Maryland; the canal system for the State of Pennsylvania; and the First Welland Canal in Ontario, Canada.

In addition to his surveying and civil engineering work, Geddes also held various public offices. After studying law, he was appointed justice of the peace in 1800, associate justice in 1809, and judge for Onondaga County's court of common pleas in 1812. He represented Onondaga County for two terms in the New York State Assembly, from 1803 to 1804, and later, from 1821 to 1822. He was elected to the United States House of Representatives as a Federalist in 1812 and served one term from 1813 to 1815.

The area of Onondaga County where James Geddes settled and died was renamed Geddes in his honor in 1848.

This collection consists of a group of family correspondence of New York surveyor, civil engineer, and politician James Geddes (1763-1838), along with a document accounting Geddes's expenses for an 1804 survey he conducted in Onondaga, Cayuga, Oneida, and Oswego counties in New York.

Most prominently represented in the collection are letters James Geddes wrote to his family members in the late 1820s and 1830s, in which he discusses engineering and surveying; his views on contemporary politics; family matters and gossip; observations on local weather, topography, and plant life; and other topics. Most letters are addressed either individually or collectively to his nephews and nieces living in Michigan and Pennsylvania, including John Geddes (1801-1889), Robert Geddes (1795-1866), Jane Geddes (1804-1882), and William Geddes (1802-1877). Another is addressed to his brother John Geddes (1770-1840). James Geddes's letters to his family are filled with detailed observations about meteorological patterns, topographical features, local plants, and the suitability of various regions for habitation; often including charts of daily high and low temperatures he recorded and long narrative descriptions of natural and geographical characteristics of the land he was surveying. Geddes discusses the health of various family members, their travels, as well as his disgust with family members settling in Missouri due to his opposition to slavery. There are also several letters to James Geddes from his brother Robert Geddes (1771-1832), regarding selling land bequeathed by a relative, a comparison of sowing native versus European crops, and a variety of political issues, including the banking system, a caucus at Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, the construction of the Union Canal in Pennsylvania, and a political controversy between supporters of William Findlay (1768–1846) and Joseph Hiester (1752-1832), both of whom served as governors of Pennsylvania between 1817 and 1823. Letters of others that also shed light on James Geddes's life include a 1797 letter to his brother Robert Geddes from William Sawyer, in which Sawyer remarks on James Geddes's assignment to survey the Onondaga Salt Springs Reservation; as well as a 1879 letter from James Geddes's biographer Norman Geddes to another relative, which includes a nine-page genealogy of the Geddes family that traces back to Scottish and Irish ancestors.

The document titled "Expenses of Surveying unappropriated Lands in August, September, October & November 1804" provides a thorough accounting of James Geddes's expenses on labor, lodging, provisions, and equipment for surveying Pompey, Manlius, Camillus, Marcellus, Lysander and Hannibal, the Oneida Lake Islands and Cicero, and Brutus and the Seneca Islands in New York. The survey was conducted as part of a plan to lay out and improve a road to pass through the Onondaga Salt Springs Reservation. A summary section enumerates, for each location, the number of days employed in surveying as compared to days employed in transcribing. The entries for each expense are often detailed and provide information on how many assistants were present, where they slept and for how many nights, and the food and drink they consumed, which frequently included items like whiskey, rum, beer, and chocolate.

Arranged chronologically.

Purchase, 2017 (AM 2018-5).

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This collection was processed by Kelly Bolding in August 2017. Finding aid written by Kelly Bolding in August 2017.

No materials were separated during 2017 processing.

Publisher
Manuscripts Division
Finding Aid Author
Kelly Bolding
Finding Aid Date
2017
Access Restrictions

Open for research.

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Collection Inventory

William Sawyer Letter to Robert Geddes (1771-1832), 1797 April 19. 1 folder.
Scope and Contents

One letter from William Sawyer (possibly a relative) at South Bay Saltworks to James Geddes's brother Robert Geddes in Londonderry Township, Pennsylvania. In the letter, Sawyer refers to the profitability of James's survey work in preparation for the division of the Onondaga Salt Springs Reservation into lots.

Physical Description

1 folder

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"Expenses of Surveying unappropriated Lands in August, September, October & November 1804", 1805 March. 1 folder.
Scope and Contents

Three-page document accounting James Geddes's expenses related to survey work for a 1804 road project in Onondaga, Cayuga, Oneida, and Oswego counties in New York, totaling $400.57.

Physical Description

1 folder

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Robert Geddes (1771-1832) Letters to James Geddes, 1804-1823. 1 folder.
Scope and Contents

Three letters to James Geddes from his brother.

Physical Description

1 folder

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James Geddes Letters to His Nephews and Nieces, 1827-1838. 1 folder.
Scope and Contents

Consists of sixteen letters from James Geddes to his nephews and nieces, John Geddes (1801-1889), Robert Geddes (1795-1866), and Jane Geddes (1804-1882) in Michigan, and William Geddes (1802-1877) in Pennsylvania. Most letters are addressed to John Geddes and are written either individually to John, or to John, Robert, and Jane collectively. One letter is addressed to William.

Physical Description

1 folder

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James Geddes Letter to John Geddes (1770-1840), 1837 March 7. 1 folder.
Scope and Contents

One letter from James Geddes to his only surviving brother.

Physical Description

1 folder

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Norman Geddes Letter to John Geddes, 1879 March 26. 1 folder.
Scope and Contents

One nine-page letter containing Norman Geddes's genealogy of the Geddes family.

Physical Description

1 folder

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